He looked to be straight out of central casting, circa 1950s. Though there were seats available, he chose to ride standing, holding onto the dangling strap above for balance. The stylish fedora tilted ever so slightly forward across his forehead. His black London Fog trench coat was buttoned neatly down the front, with the belt fastened securely around his waist. The attaché he carried tightly at his right side left the most lasting impression. Not the usual overstuffed computer bag of today with the padded shoulder strap and earbuds sprouting out of the top, this instead appeared to be made of wood, stylish and thin with the numbered tumblers locked in place on each side of the leather handle. Such a briefcase was surely harboring a very important stack of reports or plans or perhaps even a secret message for the contact he would be meeting in the park.
Image provided courtesy of Pixabay, https://pixabay.com/en/briefcase-vintage-oldschool-923847/ CC0 Public Domain, no known restrictions.
This is how I entertain myself each morning during my commute into the city. The sights and smells of the metro seem to launch my brain into story-mode. I become mesmerized by those around me, imagining their backstories. Perhaps it’s the way most writers are wired, to view all the world and its occupants as source and inspiration for future scribblings. I’m sure I’ll somehow use “man with fedora” as a muse some day and I’ve tucked away his image for safe keeping.
One of my favorite writers, Miami Herald columnist and author Carl Hiaasen, mines the headlines of my native state of Florida for writing gold. His most recent book, Razor Girl, was inspired by the story of a woman who was “grooming herself” while driving (yes, you read that right) and crashed into a car full of tourists. Truth to all that is holy, read about it yourself: http://www.wbur.org/hereandnow/2016/09/15/carl-hiaasen-razor-girl. For the record, she wasn’t brushing her hair.Where are YOUR favorite places to people watch? Click To Tweet
I find myself most mornings perched on my orange vinyl bench seat, people watching all the way along the 40 minute metro ride. As the metro car lurches along, I pick my targets for observation. I’ve had some favorites:
Multi-Tasker Sue. Two weeks ago I watched Sue proceed to do her full hair and make-up while seated in the metro car front row which faces toward the other rows within the car. I’m talking rollers out of her hair, lipstick, eye shadow, the works. She seemed to possess an arsenal of beauty products in her pretty pink quilted commuter bag. Sue’s ability to work a mascara wand and not end up with raccoon eyes was mesmerizing to behold. I envision Sue to be living some sort of double life, one that requires her to make quick changes of her looks. Perhaps there were wigs and fake teeth and extra eyeglasses in that pink bag of hers.
Image provided courtesy of gratisography, http://gratisography.com/ No image restrictions.
Over-Sharing Betty. To be fully accurate, Betty wasn’t on the train, I instead encountered her while riding the escalator up to the platform to await said train. Somehow, in her haste to share all her worldly news and knowledge with what I’m hoping was her best friend and not just some unwilling passerby, Betty seemed to be oblivious to the fact that she was, in fact, quite loudly expressing such gems as: “I’m pretty sure that condoms, birth control, and Vagasil are all available over the counter.” Well darlin’, two out of three ain’t bad. Betty is definitely a librarian. She needs an outlet after all the hushed tones and library whispers throughout her day.
I'm pretty sure that condoms, birth control, and Vagasil are all available over the counter. Click To Tweet
Germaphobe Bob. Poor Bob, after using disinfectant wipes on the seat and handrails, I watched him wedge himself up into one of the farthest corners of the metro car, with what must have been high hopes that no one would sit beside him. Bob raised an open book in front of his face in what looked to be his attempt to ward off any nascent airborne contagions that might drift his way. Public transportation is certainly not designed for those who easily fret over exposure to their fellow humans. I believe Bob to be either a shoe salesman or a romance novel editor; I haven’t quite decided.
There have been many others: the letch, the debutante, the bookworm. I’ve developed backstories for them all. But as I looked around this morning, I had a bit of an epiphany: In the eyes of my fellow riders, what do they wonder to be my backstory?In the eyes of my fellow riders, what do they wonder to be my backstory? Click To Tweet
Are you a people watcher? Where are your favorite places for observing the human condition?
April Williams saysDecember 19, 2016 at 1:19 pm
People watching is my favorite and am always intrigued with who they are and what their story might be. I am always fascinated by the people I come into contact with, the person in line at the grocery store that I had a short conversation with, the person that held the door open for me as a I walk into a restaurant. I may never ever see these people again yet, something brought us together if even for a moment. Life is always fascinating to me for those reasons. What a fun read thanks for sharing! xo
Kimba saysDecember 21, 2016 at 4:36 pm
Yeah, it’s the whole eye contact thing, right? A twinkle in an eye can set the wheels in motion in my head to create an entire backstory for someone.
Joyce Hansen saysDecember 18, 2016 at 8:06 pm
There’s never a dull moment when you’re observing the parade of characters passing by. I’ve been entertained for hours listening to one-sided conversations of people and their cell-phone mates while riding the Long Island Railroad. I have one fond memory of waiting on the train platform very early one morning. The argument was between a husband and his wife. Apparently, he came home late and left before she got up. The rest pf the platform was dead silent as we listened. He, apparently, never realized each of us was starting our day wondering if they were going to make-up or were headed for divorce court.
Kim Dalferes saysDecember 18, 2016 at 9:20 pm
It’s crazy what folks discuss, loudly, in public. Of course, I’ve had my fair share of showing my behind in public. But with age comes the wisdom to know when it’s time to take the convo out of the public eye!
Sue Kearney saysDecember 16, 2016 at 5:35 pm
Oh Kimba, I’m a story-maker-upper from forever. It’s much better when I just make up the story, not so good when I make it up and then compare myself to some attainable element (that I made up!) to my detriment. I love the Hiassen grooming story, I’m still chuckling.
I guess I still have a bit of a governor in my “I’ll share anything” mode, so I won’t tell you what I was doing while driving and getting pulled over in my wayward youth. Another day.
Kim Dalferes saysDecember 18, 2016 at 9:28 pm
Come on Sue! You can’t mention a teaser like that and not share! Time to dish chica – what’s your getting pulled over story?
Beverley Golden saysDecember 16, 2016 at 3:40 pm
Yes, indeed, I am a curious observer of the world around me. I love watching people, and my interest seems to focus more on who they are, how they feel, what they are thinking, where they came from and are going to etc. I often see two people interacting and create my version of their ‘story’. Interestingly, if I have the chance to find out what it is, I have been known to be right on occasion. Often I see a connection between seemingly unconnected things too! Thanks for sharing some of the people and the backstories you’ve created for them, Kimberley. They sound like perfect characters for an upcoming book! Happy people watching and writing.
Kim Dalferes saysDecember 18, 2016 at 9:00 pm
Oh it is fun to couple watch. Have you seen the movie “Date Night”? The main characters spend their time couple watching and its very funny.
Teresa Salhi saysDecember 16, 2016 at 1:34 pm
What a delightful read. We can definitely encounter over-sharers unless we are one and likely don’t realize it. Not me, now way…uhhuh. 🙂 Now I am a people observer and have taking a fun journey within what their journey may be on the outside.
Kim Dalferes saysDecember 18, 2016 at 9:31 pm
Yeah, I’d be a big ‘ol hypocrite if I didn’t admit that I have, on occasion, over-shared in public a wee bit.
Reba Linker saysDecember 16, 2016 at 11:08 am
This is hilarious, especially Over-Sharing Betty. It must be fun to watch the movies in your mind. I tend to choreograph in my mind – it’s thrilling. Everyone else is missing quite a show!
Kim Dalferes saysDecember 18, 2016 at 9:21 pm
Oh, the stories evolving in my mind are a bit of a circus to be sure!
Betsy Ashton saysDecember 16, 2016 at 9:25 am
I was waiting for friends at Wolf Trap one hot summer night. Coming toward me was Mr. GQ. Dressed in the current hot fashion in suits, crisp white button-down, tie untied and hanging in perfect symmetry. Hair looking like he’d just come from a stylist, not a barber. Highly polished loafers, not wing-tips. And carrying a 32-ounce Big Gulp. Entire image blown with that bright plastic cup.
I will memorialize him in a story one of these day. I promise.
Kim Dalferes saysDecember 18, 2016 at 9:35 pm
I’ll never look at a Big Gulp the same way ever again!
Barbara saysDecember 16, 2016 at 9:08 am
I have to say, concocting back stories while on any form of public transportation is also a favorite pastime…I recall a wonderful back story about a CIA double secret agent with an explodable brief case (with the secret code of 999 nonetheless) on the VRE platform heading to work. It was probably more likely that he was an IRS auditor who sat at a calculator all day, but what fun we had!! 😉
Kim Dalferes saysDecember 18, 2016 at 9:37 pm
Oh, there are so many story inspirations to be had on the VRE. “Secret Code 999” I think I’ll use that in a story! 🙂
Vicki saysDecember 16, 2016 at 9:03 am
Kudos! Great laugh to start the day. I have to say I would be intrigued by a woman who could put on makeup not only while riding but in front of other people. I find people watching great fun @ the airport, mall or on a cruise..make your own entertainment!
Kim Dalferes saysDecember 18, 2016 at 9:40 pm
Airports are definitely great for people watching. I once sat next to a guy, waiting for our plane to board, and listened as he proceeded to quit his job over his cell phone. It was very dramatic. Come to think of it, I should use Quitter Karl as inspiration for another character in the novel!